Jump to content
The Education Forum

The CIA and Repression in Vietnam


Recommended Posts

The Vietnam War and the fight against Communism provided job security for the CIA. Kennedy was trying to pull us out, but the CIA, most notably CIA Director John McCone, had other plans. The CIA tried to block President Kennedy’s efforts to oust the repressive Diem-Nhu regime in South Vietnam.

McCone wrote a memorandum on August 25, 1963, stating that pursuant to White House policy, U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge met with CIA station chief John Richardson “for the purpose of discussing plans to promote a coup.”

William Colby, the CIA’s Far East Division Chief in 1963, attended a top-level meeting at the White House three days later, and Colby’s Memorandum for the Record states the CIA had made “operational contacts” with South Vietnamese Generals to gage the strength needed for a successful coup.

But on August 31, 1963, Colby stated CIA contacts with the South Vietnamese Generals “were viewed with some reservation by the Generals in view of CIA’s known relationship with Nhu.”

On September 10, 1963, Colby wrote a memorandum concerning a “Presidential Meeting on Vietnam” attended by McCone, and Colby stated McCone touted a “personal telegram” from CIA station chief John Richardson. McCone told President Kennedy and everyone else at the meeting that Richardson “took a less pessimistic view” of problems with the Diem-Nhu regime and that Richardson’s telegram “expressed the belief that the regime and the army will be able to get together.”

Colby and McCone also attended the National Security Council’s “Executive Committee Meeting on Vietnam” on September 16, 1963, and Colby noted CIA station chief John Richardson had “regular contacts with Nhu,” but the contacts “were being suspended” at the request of Ambassador Lodge.

A Washington Post article on September 22, 1963, about Kennedy’s efforts to oust the Diem-Nhu regime, said “certain elements of the CIA believe that there is no alternative to the Diem-Nhu axis.”

It continued: “These sentiments also exist among American military leaders . . . . The brass simply feels that any change in American policy would wreck the war effort. The firmest opponents of change, however, seem to be certain top CIA people. There is strong reason to believe that the recent Times of Vietnam story exposing an alleged CIA coup attempt was actually leaked by CIA dissidents themselves in an attempt to forestall any American attempt to dump Nhu . . . . CIA dissidents see positive virtues in Nhu . . . . Ambassador Lodge cannot fully trust his own staff members.”

McCone wrote a memorandum on September 26, 1963, concerning “CIA activities in South Vietnam” in which he complained, “Many people have talked too much, become highly emotional, and have given the impression of very deep splits.”

McCone also stated the CIA’s position was that in South Vietnam, there was no “body of opinion among the military, the Security Forces and the public that would carry off a coup and establish a new government.”

He noted that this position was “highly exasperating to those who wished to move precipitously. It is for this reason that the advocates of action to move precipitously, without coordination and without intelligence support, are now carrying on a campaign against the Central Intelligence Agency and the Station.”

On October 5, 1963, nine days after McCone’s memorandum, the Washington Post reported: “John H. Richardson, CIA station chief in South Vietnam, is being recalled to Washington . . . . Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge is reported on good authority to have requested Richardson’s replacement . . . . Richardson has been one of the key men in development of the U.S. Role of helping the Diem government fight Communist guerrillas . . . . There have been persistent reports of differences between Lodge and the CIA staff.”

At a news conference on October 9, 1963, four days after Richardson’s removal, President Kennedy “vigorously defended the role of the Central Intelligence Agency in South Vietnam . . . . The President devoted a good share of his 30-minute news conference to the subject of the CIA, a normally sacrosanct matter which the White House never airs in public.”

Sixteen days later, CIA Director John McCone attended a White House meeting that was focused on South Vietnam and wrote in his Memorandum for the Record, “I stated that I felt we were handling a very delicate situation in a non-professional manner.”

He also pointed out that the CIA “does not feel that the Generals involved in the coup plotting are capable of providing immediate, dynamic leadership to the country,” and if a coup took place, “it was possible that the war might be lost during the interregnum and period of political confusion.”

McCone wrote, “I said that in examining the Diem-Nhu actions in the last sixty days, it is to be noted that they have taken constructive military moves . . . . I felt we should work with Diem and Nhu.”

At a White House meeting on October 29, McCone again took the position that “even a successful coup would create a period of interregnum and confusion,” and that it “might only be solved by a second or third coup.”

In another meeting on October 29, it was said that a coup “would have disastrous results,” and McCone asked, “Why not reconsider our support position?”

McCone wrote that it was “extremely disturbing” to him that General Maxwell Taylor, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who had “responsibility for military operations and for military advice to the President,” expressed “dissatisfaction” that U.S. support for a coup “cannot be reconsidered.”

On November 1, 1963, three weeks before the CIA killed President Kennedy, who was the antithesis of their ostensibly right-wing megalomaniac endeavors, the Diem-Nhu regime was ousted in a coup.

“Diem was defended to the last by the special forces troops trained by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency,” the Washington Post reported.

Back on October 11, 1963, with Richardson gone and plans to remove the repressive Diem-Nhu regime about to come to fruition, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy had written a National Security Action Memorandum stating that President Kennedy had approved “plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963.”

The CIA tried to forestall the removal of the Diem-Nhu regime, at least until they could assassinate President Kennedy, after which they wouldn’t have to worry about Kennedy’s interference with their agenda. But the removal of the Diem-Nhu regime wasn’t going to change the CIA’s agenda, especially since they killed the President responsible for it.

The CIA was still intent on having a Communist insurgency take over in South Vietnam, and they used the U.S. Embassy and the American military to restart the repressive environment. After all, exactly two months before the CIA killed President Kennedy, the Washington Post article said that “CIA dissidents see positive virtues in Nhu,” and the American military brass in South Vietnam “simply feels that any change in American policy would wreck the war effort.”

After dealing with the assassination of President Kennedy over the next few weeks, McCone wasted no time in implementing the Vietnam strategy.

In early January 1964, he wrote a Memorandum for the Record stating, “Reviewed briefly the North Vietnam operations, with Secretary McNamara joining us, and I recommended that the decision as to who would be in charge should be resolved by the Secretary and myself and should not be up to the Ambassador.” (Nothing like pushing for a new agenda once you’ve killed the President who said that the Ambassador was the person in charge.)

Also in early January, President Johnson sent an “Eyes Only” telegram over CIA channels to Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge stating, “John McCone has searched the rolls of Agency officers to find the ablest senior executive in the whole outfit for assignment as the new chief of station.”

Lodge resigned as Ambassador on June 28, 1964, and General Maxwell Taylor, who had expressed “dissatisfaction” that U.S. support for the November 1 coup “cannot be reconsidered,” resigned from his position as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to become the new U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam.

Three months later, a Department of Defense “Point for Discussion” on September 25, 1964, stated, “The situation is deteriorating rapidly in South Vietnam, and the trend is not likely to change.”

Three days after the Defense Department’s Point for Discussion, a CIA paper titled “Deterioration in South Vietnam” stated: “The deluge of adversity being reported out of South Vietnam raises the question whether we may be on the verge of some sudden calamity. We believe that certain of this reporting is overly despairing and does not take sufficient heed of offsetting considerations. Nevertheless, the signs of deterioration are so many, and so clear in our view, that the odds now favor a continuing decay of South Vietnamese will and effectiveness in coming weeks, sufficient to imperil the political base for present U.S. policy and objectives in South Vietnam.”

General William Westmoreland, Commander of U.S. troops in South Vietnam from 1964 to 1968, sent a telegram to the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Earle Wheeler, on October 17, 1964, stating, “We agreed with the JCS that ‘present programs will not of themselves suffice to reverse the unfavorable trend in South Vietnam.’ On the other hand, an expanded U.S. military effort will not alone reverse the trend.”

Two weeks later, on October 31, General Westmoreland sent a memorandum to Ambassador Maxwell Taylor stating, “I firmly believe, U.S. policy permitting, that we should be tougher and more exacting about GVN [Government of Vietnam] performance. Unless we have a new and more hard-headed approach, success will probably be elusive . . . . There must be Washington agreement to relinquish greater control and manipulation of programs to the U.S. Mission.”

General Westmoreland was clearly stating that he and the CIA station chief, along with the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ambassador Taylor, should handle U.S. policy. Instead of President Johnson and his Administration calling the shots, the “U.S. Mission” in South Vietnam would “control and manipulate” programs while taking “a new and more hard-headed approach” with the Government of Vietnam.

And, Westmoreland continued, “Whatever the basis for assessment of GVN performance, the U.S. Mission should be in a position to exert leverage to call forth the kind of effort, attitude or action considered necessary . . . . The real point is that many echelons within the U.S. Mission could combine to implement a new look in U.S. assistance; an evident tightening of the screws, an establishment of preconditions for assistance,” which means that the CIA and the U.S. military should be able to coerce the Government of Vietnam into clamping down on the Vietnamese people, and that U.S. assistance to South Vietnam should be contingent upon the government clamping down on the people. (Nothing like repression to foster a communist insurgency.)

Admiral Ulysses Sharp sent a telegram to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on November 3, 1964, stating that “air bases and other sensitive U.S. installations” in South Vietnam “can only be secure when there is rigid population control, a measure which must be carried out by the RVN [Republic of Vietnam].”

Eighteen months later, in April 1966, a Presidential Daily Briefing stated that “the political situation appears to be rapidly worsening in South Vietnam.”

Only President Nixon’s desperate attempt to fend off political fallout from the Watergate scandal as his second term began brought about a “peace” treaty with North Vietnam in January 1973. It was, in fact, nothing more than an American agreement to bid a hasty retreat from South Vietnam, nine years and three months after President Kennedy “vigorously defended the role of the Central Intelligence Agency in South Vietnam.”

© 2008 An Agency Gone Bad; Anthony R. Frank. All rights reserved.

The Vietnam story reminds me of the situation in Iraq, except it's worse in Iraq, where the enemy has substantial control in the government.

Edited by Tony Frank
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Anthony very interesting; thanks for posting.

The most convincing similarity with Iraq might be the CIA's pattern of disinformation to deflect blame from the agency. You mention that the CIA itself mentioned the possibility of divisions within the CIA on the question of whether to get rid of Diem. Might this publicized fork in the road be one variable in a disinformation campaign to cover up CIA involvement in a coup that would follow soon?

By the way the Bio of Colby by John Prados, which Im sure you have read, seemed much more sceptical of CIA disclaimers on the Diem hit. Any thoughts on Prados' interpretation?

Edited by Nathaniel Heidenheimer
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello Nathaniel,

The most convincing similarity with Iraq might be the CIA's pattern of disinformation to deflect blame from the agency.

I believe that Iraq is similar in that contention and conflict are stirred up, which means the CIA is seemingly needed for intelligence on the situation.

You mention that the CIA itself mentioned the possibility of divisions within the CIA on the question of whether to get rid of Diem. Might this publicized fork in the road be one variable in a disinformation campaign to cover up CIA involvement in a coup that would follow soon?

The only thing that the CIA wanted to cover up was its efforts to keep Diem and Nhu in power.

By the way the Bio of Colby by John Prados, which Im sure you have read, seemed much more sceptical of CIA disclaimers on the Diem hit. Any thoughts on Prados' interpretation?

The CIA wanted to keep Diem and Nhu in power because repression fostered the insurgency and gave the CIA a job in Vietnam. That's why Diem was defended to the last by the special forces trained by the CIA. Read Richardson's, Colby's, and McCone's perspectives on Diem. The CIA was being very honest when they disclaimed responsibility in killing Diem.

Edited by Tony Frank
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It should be noted that the repression in Vietnam was just part of a world-wide CIA effort whereby repressive dictatorships were being installed in third world countries. It gave the CIA job security. There would be no need for the CIA if those countries were thriving democracies.

National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy wrote a National Security Action Memorandum on December 4, 1962, and sent it to CIA Director John McCone, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and General Maxwell Taylor, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The memorandum stated that the objective of President Kennedy’s policies regarding military assistance to Latin America was “the development of popularly supported civilian governments.”

CIA Deputy Director for Plans Richard Helms wrote a Memorandum for the Record on July 25, 1962, stating that he and CIA Director John McCone met with the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board to “discuss certain aspects of the Agency’s Political Action Programs.”

Helms’s memorandum states that McCone told the Board about the CIA’s history of “covert financial support to political parties in the fight against Communism,” and McCone “went over with the Panel country by country an extended list of political parties and leaders supported by the Agency throughout the world.”

McCone also “pointed out that each project must have his approval.”

From that time until the assassination of President Kennedy, “American military aid meant to fight communism” was “employed to overthrow constitutional governments” and install repressive regimes in third world countries.

On September 25, 1963, less than two months before the KGB officers killed President Kennedy, “The armed forces of the Dominican Republic overthrew Juan D. Bosch, the Caribbean nation’s first legally elected president in a generation. A right-wing civilian junta was installed.”

Then, on October 3, 1963, “Honduras President Ramon Villeda Morales was toppled in a military coup. A military junta took over in the Central American country.”

Reporting from Honduras, a Washington Post reporter wrote: “United States efforts to dissuade Honduran military leaders from launching the coup that ended democracy here last week were hampered by division and uncertainty among American Embassy officials . . . . Some harbored reservations that turned to satisfaction when the military finally acted. There appears to be a strong tendency among U.S. military officials and members of the Agency for International Development mission here to regard the coup with considerable sympathy . . . . Some of the 20 military men based here have expressed the view that the coup was ‘understandable’ . . . .‘Maybe this country just isn’t ready for democracy,’ one officer said.”

On October 9, 1963, six days after the Honduran coup and two weeks after the coup in the Dominican Republic, President Kennedy made it clear that the U.S. is “wholly opposed to military coups in Latin America, no matter what justification is made for them,” and he stated, “Dictatorships are the seedbeds from which communism ultimately springs up.”

A Washington Post article on November 18, 1963, stated: “In Guatemala, Peru, Argentina, and Ecuador in the last year and a half . . . . American military aid meant to fight communism has been employed to overthrow constitutional governments . . . . So far, all the United States has gotten out of its $90 million per year military aid to the area is resentment on the part of those who are pushed around at the end of American rifles, the overthrow of several governments the U.S. had tried to protect, and a loss of ground to the Communists who thrive on the discontent produced by military dictatorships.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I should also add that JFK's death instantaneously brought about a whole new perspective on the right-wing dictatorships.

On November 22, 1963, the day Kennedy was assassinated, “Honduras announced a program that would produce civilian rule in 15 months,” three months after the U.S. Presidential election in 1964.

On November 26, 1963, the Dominican Republic announced a series of elections, the bulk of which would take place after the 1964 U.S. Presidential election. The Dominican Republic scheduled “minor local officials” to be elected “between September 1, 1964, and November 30, 1964,” and the elections would continue with “municipal elections on January 15, 1965, a constituent assembly election on March 1, 1965, and a presidential election on July 15, 1965.”

At least this announcement of a bizarre series of elections didn’t “coincidentally” take place on November 22, 1963, but four days later.

But those weren’t the only two countries where a new perspective on democracy was allegedly taking shape.

A December 18, 1963, CIA memo states that in Ecuador, one of the countries where American military aid had been used to overthrow a constitutional government, “The military junta is hastening to inaugurate a new constitution.”

The memo also states, “This haste for reforms of the Ecuadoran governing junta is not an accident,” and it noted that the Ecuadoran government was taking the action “on Washington’s advice.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...